Heat flows naturally from a warmer to a cooler space. In the winter, this heat flow moves directly from all heated living spaces to adjacent unheated attics, garages, and basements, or to the outdoors; or indirectly through interior ceilings, walls, and floors--wherever there is a difference in temperature. During the cooling season, heat flows from outdoors to the house interior. To maintain comfort, the heat lost in winter must be replaced by your heating system and the heat gained in summer must be removed by your air conditioner. Insulating ceilings, walls, and floors decreases this heat flow by providing an effective resistance to the flow of heat.
Insulation is rated in terms of thermal resistance, called R-value, which indicates the resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness. The R-value of thermal insulation depends on the type of material, its thickness, and density. In calculating the R-value of a multi-layered installation, the R-values of the individual layers are added. Installing more insulation in your home increases R-value and the resistance to heat flow.
The effectiveness of an insulated wall or ceiling also depends on how and where the insulation is installed. For example, insulation which is compressed will not give you its full rated R-value. Also, the overall R-value of a wall or ceiling will be somewhat different from the R-value of the insulation itself because some heat flows around the insulation through the studs and joists. That is, the overall R-value of a wall with insulation between wood studs is less than the R-value of the insulation itself because the wood provides a thermal short-circuit around the insulation. The short-circuiting through metal framing is much greater than that through wood-framed walls; sometimes the metal wall's overall R-value can be as low as half the insulation's R-value. With careful design, this short-circuiting can be reduced.